By Valerie Halim
The Chinese Foreign Ministry declared on Nov. 29 that the nation is open to improving diplomatic ties with the Catholic State. 

“China is sincere and active in promoting Sino-Vatican relations [and] welcomes the development of relations,” the ministry said to the South China Morning Post

Since Beijing broke off diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1951, Pope Francis recently tried to improve relations between China and the Vatican. 

However, the improving relations between the Vatican and China has not done any good. During the past year, Chinese Catholic churches continue to struggle with religious freedom.

Last September, the Chinese government and the City State signed the controversial Holy See–China Agreement. This agreement recognized the Pontiff has the veto power over the bishops, while the Chinese government has the authority to select the bishop candidates. Unfortunately, the treaty ultimately led to religious syncretism and increased persecution of incompliant churches.

Religious Syncretism

Shortly after the release of the agreement, China held Political Consultative Conference on Religions which displayed the core belief of the state-church. This conference discussed how the church should interpret religious doctrine to stay relevant to today’s era.

According to Asian News, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee president Wang Yang stated that religious doctrines should agree with socialist values. This statement affirmed President Xi Jinping’s speech in 2015 on religious and state synonymity. 

At the same conference, another Chinese Bishop reiterated the idea of religious conformity to the state. Diocese head of Linyi Bishop John Fang Xingyao stated that patriotism trumps the Bible’s canon law. Bishop Fang is the leader of two Chinese Catholic Organizations unrecognized by the Vatican. Until today, the Vatican has not released any public response to address this issue.

Increased Persecution

Another example that highlights the damage caused by the Holy See-China Agreement was Bishop Vincent Guo–Diocese of Mindong. Guo was a bishop recognized by the Vatican but not by the party-state. The pope asked bishop Guo to ‘sacrifice’ himself and step down for the sake of unity after the signing of the agreement.

Another part of the agreement was to have bishops to join the Patriotic Catholic Association (PCA) if they wish to continue their post. This is the agreement that Bishop Guo rejected, making him a target for the communist party.

Bishop Guo’s story is not unique and is the story of many other bishops who chose to maintain their religious integrity by refusing to join the PCA.

Even with the rise in religious syncretism and persecution, the Vatican has not done anything to resolve this issue. Meanwhile, other Chinese religious leader has been raising awareness about the church condition in China.

In an interview with Church Militant , Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen gave his comments on the Holy See-China agreement.

“[It is] really a terrible thing; the most worrisome element is that the agreement was a secret one, so we do not know what is in the agreement,” he said. 

In response to the interview, Fr. Francis Liu affirmed Cardinal Zen’s comment via tweet.

“The provisional agreement between Pope Francis and the Chinese government has caused tremendous harm to the underground Church. It is unknown how long this type of injury will take to heal. Pray to the Lord, ” he tweeted.